Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back again to whatthey were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall be seen to bethe carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles,the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not myfather's house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starvingpeasants! No; the great magician who majestically works out theappointed order of the Creator, never reverses his transformations."If thou be changed into this shape by the will of God," say the seersto the enchanted, in the wise Arabian stories, "then remain so! But,if thou wear this form through mere passing conjuration, then resumethy former aspect!" Changeless and hopeless, the tumbrils roll along.
As the sombre wheels of the six carts go round, they seem toplough up a long crooked furrow among the populace in the streets.Ridges of faces are thrown to this side and to that, and the ploughsgo steadily onward. So used are the regular inhabitants of thehouses to the spectacle, that in many windows there are no people, andin some the occupation of the hands is not so much as suspended,while, the eyes survey the faces in the tumbrils. Here and there,the inmate has visitors to see the sight; then he points his finger,with something of the complacency of a curator or authorised exponent,to this cart and to this, and seems to tell who sat here yesterday,and who there the day before.
Of the riders in the tumbrils, some observe these things, and allthings on their last roadside, with an impassive stare; others, with alingering interest in the ways of life and men. Some, seated withdrooping heads, are sunk in silent despair; again, there are some soheedful of their looks that they cast upon the multitude suchglances as they have seen in theatres, and in pictures. Severalclose their eyes, and think, or try to get their straying thoughtstogether. Only one, and he a miserable creature, of a crazed aspect,is so shattered and made drunk by horror, that he sings, and triesto dance. Not one of the whole number appeals by look or gesture, tothe pity of the people.
There is a guard of sundry horsemen riding abreast of the tumbrils,and faces are often turned up to some of them, and they are asked somequestion. It would seem to be always the same question, for, it isalways followed by a press of people towards the third cart. Thehorsemen abreast of that cart, frequently point out one man in it withtheir swords. The leading curiosity is, to know which is he; he standsat the back of the tumbril with his head bent down, to converse witha mere girl who sits on the side of the cart, and holds his hand. Hehas no curiosity or care for the scene about him, and always speaks toto the girl. Here and there in the long street of St. Honore, criesare raised against him. If they move him at all, it is only to aquiet smile, as he shakes his hair a little more loosely about hisface. He cannot easily touch his face, his arms being bound.
On the steps of a church, awaiting the coming-up of the tumbrils,stands the Spy and prison-sheep. He looks into the first of them:not there. He looks into the second: not there. He already askshimself, "Has he sacrificed me?" when his face clears, as he looksinto the third.
"Which is Evremonde?" says a man behind him.
"That. At the back there."
"With his hand in the girl's?"
The man cries, "Down, Evremonde To the Guillotine all aristocrats!Down, Evremonde!"
"Hush, hush!" the Spy entreats him, timidly.
"And why not, citizen?"
"He is going to pay the forfeit: it will be paid in five minutesmore. Let him be at peace."
But the man continuing to exclaim, "Down, Evremonde!" the face ofEvremonde is for a moment turned towards him. Evremonde then seesthe Spy, and looks attentively at him, and goes his way.
The clocks are on the stroke of three, and the furrow ploughed amongthe populace is turning round, to come on into the place of execution,and end. The ridges thrown to this side and to that, now crumble inand close behind the last plough as it passes on, for all arefollowing to the Guillotine. In front of it, seated in chairs, as in agarden of public diversion, are a number of women, busily knitting. Onone of the foremost chairs, stands The Vengeance, looking about forher friend.
"Therese!" she cries, in her shrill tones. "Who has seen her?Therese Defarge!"
"She never missed before," says a knitting-woman of the sisterhood.
"No; nor will she miss now," cries The Vengeance, petulantly.
"Louder," the woman recommends.
Ay! Louder, Vengeance, much louder, and still she will scarcely hearthee. Louder yet, Vengeance, with a little oath or so added, and yetit will hardly bring her. Send other women up and down to seek her,lingering somewhere; and yet, although the messengers have donedread deeds, it is questionable whether of their own wills they willgo far enough to find her!
"Bad Fortune!" cries The Vengeance, stamping her foot in thechair, "and here are the tumbrils! And Evremonde will be despatched ina wink, and she not here! See her knitting in my hand, and her emptychair ready for her. I cry with vexation and disappointment!"
As The Vengeance descends from her elevation to do it, thetumbrils begin to discharge their loads. The ministers of SainteGuillotine are robed and ready. Crash!- A head is held up, and theknitting-women who scarcely lifted their eyes to look at it a momentago when it could think and speak, count One.
The second tumbril empties and moves on; the third comes up. Crash!-And the knitting-women, never faltering or pausing in their work,count Two.
The supposed Evremonde descends, and the seamstress is lifted outnext after him. He has not relinquished her patient hand in gettingout, but still holds it as he promised. He gently places her withher back to the crashing engine that constantly whirrs up and falls,and she looks into his face and thanks him.
"But for you, dear stranger, I should not be so composed, for I amnaturally a poor little thing, faint of heart; nor should I havebeen able to raise my thoughts to Him who was put to death, that wemight have hope and comfort here to-day. I think you were sent to meby Heaven."
"Or you to me," says Sydney Carton. "Keep your eyes upon me, dearchild, and mind no other object."
"I mind nothing while I hold your band. I shall mind nothing whenI let it go, if they are rapid."
"They will be rapid. Fear not!"
The two stand in the fast-thinning throng of victims, but they speakas if they were alone. Eye to eye, voice to voice, hand to hand, heartto heart, these two children of the Universal Mother, else so wideapart and differing, have come together on the dark highway, to repairhome together, and to rest in her bosom.
"Brave and generous friend, will you let me ask you one lastquestion? I am very ignorant, and it troubles me- just a little."
"Tell me what it is."
"I have a cousin, an only relative and an orphan, like myself,whom I love very dearly. She is five years younger than I, and shelives in a farmer's house in the south country. Poverty parted us, andshe knows nothing of my fate- for I cannot write- and if I could,how should I tell her! It is better as it is."
"Yes, yes: better as it is."
"What I have been thinking as we came along, and what I am stillthinking now, as I look into your kind strong face which gives me somuch support, is this:- If the Republic really does good to thepoor, and they come to be less hungry, and in all ways to suffer less,she may live a long time: she may even live to be old."
"What then, my gentle sister?"
"Do you think:" the uncomplaining eyes in which there is so muchendurance, fill with tears, and the lips part a little more andtremble: "that it will seem long to me, while I wait for her in thebetter land where I trust both you and I will be mercifullysheltered?"
"It cannot be, my child; there is no Time there, and no troublethere."
"You comfort me so much! I am so ignorant. Am I to kiss you now?Is the moment come?"
She kisses his lips; he kisses hers; they solemnly bless each other.The spare hand does not tremble as he releases it; nothing worsethan a sweet, bright constancy is in the patient face. She goes nextbefore him- is gone; the knitting-women count Twenty-Two.
"I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord: he thatbelieveth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoeverliveth and believeth in me shall never die."
The murmuring of many voices, the upturning of many faces, thepressing on of many footsteps in the outskirts of the crowd, so thatit swells forward in a mass, like one great heave of water, allflashes away. Twenty-Three.
They said of him, about the city that night, that it was thepeacefullest man's face ever beheld there. Many added that he lookedsublime and prophetic.
One of the most remarkable sufferers by the same axe- a woman- hadasked at the foot of the same scaffold, not long before, to be allowedto write down the thoughts that were inspiring her. If he had givenany utterance to his, and they were prophetic, they would have beenthese:
"I see Barsad, and Cly, Defarge, The Vengeance, the Juryman, theJudge, long ranks of the new oppressors who have risen on thedestruction of the old, perishing by this retributive instrument,before it shall cease out of its present use. I see a beautiful cityand a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their strugglesto be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long longto come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of whichthis is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself andwearing out.
"I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful,prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more. I seeHer with a child upon her bosom, who bears my name. I see herfather, aged and bent, but otherwise restored, and faithful to all menin his healing office, and at peace. I see the good old man, so longtheir friend, in ten years' time enriching them with all he has, andpassing tranquilly to his reward.
"I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts oftheir descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weepingfor me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband,their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and Iknow that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other'ssoul, than I was in the souls of both.
"I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a manwinning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see himwinning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by thelight of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I seehim, foremost of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of myname, with a forehead that I know and golden hair, to this place- thenfair to look upon, with not a trace of this day's disfigurement- and Ihear him tell the child my story, with a tender and a faltering voice.
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."